Looking for a true left-field alternative? Well the 159 might be the answer for you.
The 156 was a turning point. It was the car that saved Alfa Romeo and combined high quality with traditional Alfa sports car-like values such as lightweight and sonorous engines. All good things must come to an end, though, and in 2005, the 159 replaced the aged 156.
The 159 took Alfa Romeo in a new direction, with all-new (although not necessarily better) engines and a focus on perceived quality and safety while retaining Alfa Romeo’s looks.
With supermodel aesthetics, premium materials, and an all-new platform, the 159 took the attack directly to the BMW 3 Series and fought a good fight, sometimes showing up the German opposition. Looking for a true left-field alternative? Well, this might be the answer for you.
There is no other way of saying it; the 159 is beautiful, more beautiful than the 156 and perhaps more so even than the world-beating Giulia at some angles.
Just look at that front end; how menacing do those low-slung triple front headlamps look? There is a distant resemblance to an old-school muscle car here as well as the ludicrous SZ sports car that Alfa made in the ’90s just to show off.
While the front is definitely the star of the show, the car has clean and crisp lines front to back; it’s a striking design all over and one that has to be seen in the flesh to truly appreciate.
The magic doesn’t stop there either. While some modern Alfas in the lower tier segments like the Giulietta and the MiTo compromise a little on interior quality stakes, the 159 was designed with premium buyers in mind. This is why most examples are shod in leather, and all examples come with a wonderful looking three-spoke leather steering wheel and a brushed aluminum dashboard wrapped around the driver to let them know this car is for them, not the passenger.
Seriously, you could buy this car just for its glorious interior!
The Engines Are The Thorn In This Crown
Up until this point, the Twin Spark petrols had been the entry-level Alfa Romeo engine. This was a revvy, wonderful sounding 4-put with…you guessed it, two spark plugs per cylinder.
Unfortunately, age finally got the better of this engine, and it was replaced with 1.8MPI and 2.2 JTS petrol engines that bared a distant relation to the Twin Spark in terms of architecture, but they had none of that zippy character the older engine was known and loved for. Performance was also weak with a 0-60 time in at around 10.2 and 9 seconds, respectively.
There were also 1.9- and 2.0-liter diesel engines, which were better all-round packages in terms of efficiency and performance but lacked the traditional Alfa Romeo engine values.
The real problem, though was the 159 era vehicles did not just replace the Twin Spark but also the iconic Busso V6. The Busso was replaced with a like for like 3.2 V6 unit with General Motors underpinnings; the result of this much more modern design was an increase of 10BHP and 20NM of torque and total removal of that free-revving character, beautiful sound, and overall engine sweetness.
Performance was not particularly impressive either, with 0-60 in 7 seconds and poor fuel consumption. Reliability was also a cause for concern as the timing chain system was known to be a weak point and required thousands spent to rectify; even for the most hardcore petrol enthusiast there is no real reason to buy this engine.
The pick of the bunch is the 200 BHP 1750Tbi. This was a four-cylinder petrol that almost matched the performance of the 3.2 due to its lighter weight and the 2.4JTD. The 2.4 is a five-cylinder diesel engine with 210 BHP that is heavily tunable, relatively fuel-efficient, and despite being a diesel, the odd five-cylinder configuration made a very interesting noise.
An Advanced Platform That Put The Competition To Shame
While the engines were a bit disappointing, the platform was much better. Millions were spent on research and development, and as a result, the 159 is a much stiffer and heavier car than the 156, especially the models that included the very clever variable bias Q4 four-wheel-drive system.
While the weight of up to 3,700 lbs for the heaviest model (an increase of nearly 1,100 lbs over the lightest 156!) was detrimental to the cars performance and efficiency, it meant the 159 was far safer and achieved a five-star EURO NCAP crash test rating, and it also meant the 159 had terrific road-holding and grip; sometimes even surpassing the rear-wheel-drive German opposition.
A Real Step Upmarket For Alfa Romeo
The 159 era cars took Alfa Romeo in an entirely new direction. Never before had an Alfa felt so premium, although perhaps this came with a loss of the legendary sporty dynamics. But to drive, the 159 is still quite a sharp thing with crisp and responsive steering; it just comes with the added benefit of a distinctively plush feeling to everything about it.
This pick of the bunch for the purist is probably the late TI 1750Tbi models. These came with a further uprated cabin with red contrast stitching and fantastic new seats. These can be found for as little as $8,300 and still look as fresh now as they did ten years ago.
Overall, the 159 is not a bad Alfa; it is just a different Alfa and should be appreciated as such. Buy one of these, and you are unlikely to be disappointed; it’s a classless car that can be appreciated by everyone.